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Anthropogenic stressors influence reproduction and development in elasmobranch fishes


The consequences of human influence can arise in vertebrates as primary, secondary, or even tertiary stressors and may be especially detrimental for slow growing species with long generation times (i.e., K-selected species). Here, we review the impacts of both direct and indirect human interactions on the reproductive biology of elasmobranchs. Within direct human influence, capture-induced stress from fisheries bycatch and poor coastal management practices leading to habitat destruction and pollution are among the most impactful on elasmobranch reproduction. Capture-induced stress has been shown to negatively influence offspring and reproductive capacity via capture-induced parturition as well as by disrupting the reproductive physiology of adults. Habitat degradation impacts essential ecosystems that are necessary for the development of young elasmobranchs. Pollutants such as heavy metals, legacy pesticides, and flame retardants have been traced through elasmobranch reproduction; however, the long-term effects of these exogenous chemicals are yet to be determined. Furthermore, within indirect human impacts, climate change-mediated influences (e.g., ocean warming and acidification) can impact development, physiological processes, and behavioral patterns necessary for essential tasks such as foraging, growth, reproduction, and ultimately survival. Here, we also present a case study, where data regarding temperature and incubation time from 28 egg-laying elasmobranch species were examined to show relevance of such data in predicting how suitable (e.g., via maximum threshold temperatures) habitats will be for skate and shark development in the coming century. Concomitantly, this information highlights areas for future research that will help inform better management as well as climate change forecasting for this threatened group of aquatic vertebrates.

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CRW is supported by a research assistantship jointly through the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at New England Aquarium and the University of Massachusetts Boston as well as a graduate fellowship from the American Australian Association. RR is supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT, Portugal) through the MARE strategic project UID/MAR/04292/2019 and a project grant PTDC/AAG-GLO/1926/2014. JLR is supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Early Career Discovery Fellowship (2015–2018), a L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Foundation Fellowship (2015–2016), and research allocation from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. We thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback and suggestions on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Carolyn R. Wheeler.

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Wheeler, C.R., Gervais, C.R., Johnson, M.S. et al. Anthropogenic stressors influence reproduction and development in elasmobranch fishes. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 30, 373–386 (2020).

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  • Chondrichthyes
  • Developmental biology
  • Climate change
  • Reproductive biology